He’d watched one night, two, three, along with the days in between, driving the dark blue Tesla down the streets a few times through each period. Electric, silent, fast, rechargeable, the Tesla was ideal. If he was a burglar in the real world, the Tesla would be his choice of vehicles.
Lights had broken the tidy homes’ darkness a few times. Nothing sustained. Patterns reminded him of night lights. He thought, creatures creeping through places. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, or maybe bigger things like cougars, wolves, coyotes, bears. Nothing like that here, though, right? No, he’d looked for their prints, scat, and kills. He didn’t know what was triggering the night lights, but he didn’t think that it was big animals like those, but his mind kept entertaining visions of meeting them.
He finally chose a neat white craftsman on the corner. Lacy white curtains were drawn on the windows. The flowers were dead in the window boxes. The house wasn’t too big, probably fifteen, eighteen hundred square feet, maybe. Well maintained. Solid. Probably built around 1910, like a whole other era. A whole other time. A whole other existence.
It hadn’t shown any lights. He approached it during the day. Felt better, safer, that way, being in strangers’ homes during the day. First, he walked cautiously around the yard through the tall grass, watching the windows and listening. Not even a wind broke the sound, though there was sometimes a bird singing or flying by overhead.
Closing on the house, he went up the front steps onto the green painted porch and to the door. He lightly knocked. He used to say, “Hello,” but then he’d learned to dislike hearing his voice in that silence.
Nobody answered the first, second, or more impatient third knock. Between the second and third, he held his breath and tried opening the door, confirming it was locked. Everyone locked up like they’d gone away but were coming back.
It was a pretty door, stained hardwood with beveled panes of glass. He hated breaking a pane, but it was necessary. So was the cold Smith and Wesson that he wrapped his fingers around in his pocket. You never knew what waited inside. He used to carry a shotgun, but he wasn’t a shotgun person.
Leaving his bags on the porch, he entered the house. The floor creaked with his ginger steps. The first thing he saw after entering and closed the door was a wall of photographs. Some showed servicemen who might have been in World War II or Korea. Others were definitely of the Vietnam and Gulf War vintages. Poor saps. Loving couples were on smiling display. The family’s growth was demonstrated through a succession of photographs. Holiday scenes told on their religion.
Stilling, he drew back from the wall. They must have lived here a long time.
He felt brazen and crude for his presence.
They would understand, wouldn’t they?
Hard to say, hard to say.
Questions like that had many sideways directions.
As did his existence. Were they all still alive elsewhere, and he was the dead one, or was this a dream? Perhaps, he sometimes speculated, he’d gone sideways into another reality.
He’d given up on hope that he’d slide back. Passing the wall of memories, he made his way straight back down the narrow hallway toward where he thought he’d find the kitchen. Nobody was dead inside. The air demonstrated that closed house mustiness of disuse, but lacked the qualities of sickness and death. Dust motes cavorted in the sunlight.
As expected, the kitchen was found at the hall’s end, a magnificently updated and warm place, made for people to cook as others gathered and chatted, sipping coffee, wine, or tea as they told about where they’d been and what they’d been doing. He wished they would tell him now.
The pantry was full, as expected. Pasta, crackers, cereal, oat meal, flour, rice, dried beans, canned goods, coffee, tea. Going back for his re-usable shopping bags – no more plastic or paper bags, thank you – he stocked up. He found Kalamata olives, which pleased him. They felt like a reward. Untouched Gouda cheese was in the refrigerator. He stood and looked in at the cold, lit refrigerator interior for a long time. The vegetables and fruit had gone bad. He removed them and tossed them out back for the rest of the world.
After the kitchen, he found a liquor cabinet and a wine cabinet and filled up his bags. He didn’t take everything, just in case there were matters that he couldn’t predict, like their return, because there were matters he didn’t know, like where they were. He didn’t open any drawers or closets in the bedrooms. He didn’t need anything from them.
After putting his bags in the Tesla’s trunk, he came back and cleaned up the glass on the hall floor from where he’d broken in. Finding a workbench in the garage out back, he covered the window with taped cardboard, just in case, and then paused in the open doorway, looking around. You would think, he thought, that he’d be done with the emotions. Well, you’d be wrong, he answered. You’d be dead wrong.
Good-bye, he said without speaking, and closed the door on where he’d been.